Orbital sees bright future for Orion launch abort system
The escape rocket that would shoot astronauts to safety from a failing spacecraft in the now-defunct Constellation program could be reborn in future commercial space vehicles, according to the head of Orbital Sciences Corp.
Orbital is still developing the Launch Abort System for the Orion spacecraft, although the program would be cancelled under the White House's new NASA policy released in early February.
The abort system would generate 400,000 pounds of thrust from a solid-fueled motor for a fraction of a second, enough power to rapidly whisk the Orion capsule, and the astronauts inside, from a failing rocket during launch.
"If the Constellation program is wrapped up, I think the Launch Abort System work that we've done is one of those elements that should have an excellent opportunity to be transferred into future human spaceflight systems, whether those would involve Orbital putting the entire system together or supplying the Launch Abort System to some other prime contracter that might be in the running for that work," said David Thompson, the company's chairman and CEO.
In place of the Constellation program, NASA is planning to turn over responsibility for human spaceflight to commercial transportation services. Leading contenders for the new role in space operations include major contractors like Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. Orbital and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, are also vying for the space transport job.
"I think the work we've done over the last two-and-a-half years [with the abort system] should be pretty directly transferrable into one or more of the human spaceflight systems that NASA would expect to promote over the next five years," Thompson said.